Posts Tagged ‘ writing

“Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel

This was originally written before the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic was full blown in the US. It feels extremely petty now and I’ve lost all steam on finishing it. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed this book and do recommend it to all to read, even if the troubling times depicted seem prescient to the current situation. What is happening now was inevitable, but unlike Station Eleven’s “Georgia Flu,” is survivable.

I first heard about Station Eleven when the author, Emily St. John Mandel, when it was announced that she would be speaking at Cleveland State University. I wasn’t able to attend, but the professor that told me about it said the book was about “a post-apocalyptic theater troupe around the Great Lakes.” I bought the book immediately, because that’s just my jam. I didn’t get a chance to read it until after graduation. I am so glad to have done so— This book isn’t about just the theater troupe. It’s about the dread of the unknown, the collapse of structure, and the rebuilding of life with the rubble that remains. I don’t think I could have appreciated the way St. John Mandel expresses anxiety that freedom brings without recently being freed from something myself. This will be the first time I’m writing about a book that I wasn’t required to read for a class. This is the first time I am writing about something I read for my own enjoyment. This the first time I get to write about my thoughts on the primary source without having to cite several scholarly sources to support my point. I don’t need a thesis. I don’t need a conclusion. All pretension and pseudo-intellectualism is gone! Meeting standards set forth by people who have no direct impact on my personal edification just to prove that I’ve memorized the prescribed literature is gone! No more bullshitting to fill a page-length on a topic I don’t care about! It’s as if all of society has collapsed and I’m now free to do whatever I want! Oh, did I just … I just made a thesis, didn’t I? I don’t care if it’s weak! I don’t care if I don’t prove it! Fuck you, I get to slack now!

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Video Games for Social Justice

Oftentimes, the reader that could benefit from reading a work of literature that is intended to develop empathy for a particular plight is not likely to pick up a book that clearly advertises itself as being about that hardship. Many authors have tackled this obstacle in the past by writing speculative fiction rather than a straight narrative. The time-travel aspect of Octavia Butler’s Kindred might draw in the temporal enthusiast, but her message is still overtly about the struggles of African-Americans. Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing is a fantastic ghost story that is still straight-forward about the poverty and incarceration related suffering of African-Americans over several generations. However modern authors approach this minor subterfuge of “tricking” a reader into ingesting their message of social justice, there will still be a group of people that have no desire to pick up a book. This is where new forms of media, not just modern writing, come into play. Television and film in recent years, especially those based upon novels that have a message of social justice, reach more of an audience than just fans of the book. Video games, especially those developed by independent studios, are in a unique position to deliver the audience a perspective they would not normally have sought on their own through the allure of gameplay. One such game I will focus on is This War of Mine, published in 2014 by 11 Bit Studios. The game uses a popular game style from the time—Survival—to deliver a specific message about the lives of non-combatants in a military conflict. The tagline of the game (“In War… Not Everyone Is a Soldier”) provides the player some foreshadowing that the game is atypical.

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A Room of One’s Own

The below text was written for a class on British Literature, focusing on Virgina Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own”.

Lately, I feel like I’ve been living the reality that Woolf describes regarding women and fiction – obligations from being a woman, a mom, an aunt, etc, have to be juggled with my schoolwork, my job, my social life, any an personal or free time. It’s overwhelming. And then, I have to decide, what do I prioritize? If women lack the education to write poetry, as Woolf says, should I then prioritize education? But what do I take from? Do I stop performing the  “duties” of my gender? (This is actually what I did—I consider myself non-binary in the first place, the “performance” of femininity never sat well with me, neither did masculinity. Supportive spouses are great.) Does my education suffer because of other things required of me? (If you look at my post history, you’d probably see that I don’t often get time to post, or even to think of what to post beforehand. Full time jobs are pretty much necessary for middle class parents of any gender.) Do I stop working, or take time off, in order to make time for other things? But then how would I get my “£500 a year” to afford life?  The mental labor necessary for finding time, the freedom to be able to write, and to write something that requires as intensive scrutiny as poetry, is still not afforded to women (or even men) at the present time. Prose and poetry are still something afforded to people who have an abundance of personal time, or to people who are willing to sacrifice necessities to make time.

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ENG 363 – “The Argonauts”

I’m stuck on one line Maggie Nelson wrote on page 37.

I cannot hold my baby at the same time as I write.”

This is something that I feared when I became pregnant, when I decided I wanted to have children. I wanted more than one before I had one; but having one has made me realize that, mentally, I cannot handle more than one. And I think it is because of this sentiment I share with Nelson.

I cannot be a proper mother while being myself.

Nelson references her quote of D. W. Winnicott that echoes how I felt with “I had nearly four decades to become myself before experimenting with my obliteration.”

I don’t think I had that. I think I was still striving to find who I was before I had my child, while I was pregnant, and even after he was born.

Women struggle with identity in ways that men will not understand. We have feminists telling us to be ourselves, to make our own decisions, to do what we will, to find our own truth of life. We have the patriarchy telling us to be good and start a family while we can, before complications arise from age, before whatever. Before we’re whole. Be a mother before you’re human.

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ENG 350 – “I’m With The Bears”

While I plan to finish the entirety of I’m With the Bears shortly, I am still on a deadline because this is for a class.

I spent yesterday at a relative’s house for a family reunion, in the 94°F (34.4C) heat (“feels like: 100°F” (37.7C) says the Weather Channel) when outside, in something significantly cooler but still warm indoors. Air conditioners that once made the interiors of houses comfortable can only manage “better than outside” in the summers now. Living in a house without central air has gotten me used to sitting in a room that runs around 80°F (26.6C) as the tiny, single-room AC unit in the window struggles to counter the increasing summer temps.

It was James’s side of the family, so the reminiscing was not for me. I hung around with those that married in and we discussed things. The conversation was usually about jobs, status of vehicles, the temperature outside. We talked about how hot it is, how it used to not be that hot, but there was no discussion deeper than that. This wasn’t the time or place for it. It was too hot.

My job as an energy engineer/analyst/manager for retail corporations fits snugly into this changing climate. My goal is to save them money by running the AC efficiently. Making stores comfortable so people buy things. On the surface we can tell people that we’re trying to be more environmentally friendly, but it’s all about money.

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ENG 350 – “The Water Knife”

Last Christmas, I think it was, I bought a copy of Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife for my brother in law (it was on his wishlist) and didn’t bother to peek inside. I know now that if I would have, I would have ended up giving him a used copy.

I often wonder how I got into the business of energy management—it was completely by accident, I swear. I got into tech support for the company’s lighting and HVAC controls systems, learning much of not only the workings of the hardware and software, but also of the strategies. I’m interested and invested in all sorts of resource management as well. My career requires that I find ways for retail corporations to save money on utilities, but the way to do that is to use less. Less electricity. Less gas. Less water.

It seems like the main characters of this novel each also got into caring about water management by accident as well. A hardened criminal recruited from prison by a corporate mastermind. A “wet” (newbie) reporter trying to shout out the truth to people who don’t want to listen to it. A refugee just trying to get out of her shitty life.

Though the novel follows a fairly formulaic story telling process, the characters are still interesting and their motives are more than just a stereotype. Bacigalupi builds a world based around water scarcity that is based on real issues affecting the American southwest today (and has been for more than a century and a half, really) and takes it to a dramatic extreme with political and corporate espionage, shadow ops, and people who got in deeper than they wanted and now they’re all in danger.

Highly recommended, and would love to see a movie.

ENG 363 – “The Rules Do Not Apply”

I will admit, I did not read the whole of The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy. I have been busy at work, getting back into the swing of things after being off for a week recovering from surgery. I skimmed the book, found a few short chapters that struck my interest, then ended up going back to find out who people were and what was going on. I was mainly interested in how Levy spoke on her miscarriage.

Miscarriage and infertility affect the majority of women, but seemingly are never really discussed. By discussing it emotionally, viscerally, socially … Levy is making a big feminist move. It’s a thing that can only happen to people with uteruses but no one talks about it because it’s a “women’s problem”.

I have my own issues with infertility that I haven’t really discussed, even with those closest to me. I usually just give them a run down version – physically incapable, my meds prevent me, something like that. I’m 35 now with a 9 year old, and I’ve not “given up” on trying to have a kid, I’ve realized that I don’t actually want another kid. I didn’t really want a second but convinced myself that I did because my spouse did. I’d have to get off my meds in order to attempt again, and we tried. I can’t handle my mental issues without my medication. We discussed this  between ourselves and both agree that we’d rather I be a human being than a baby factory.

I’ve had friends deal with miscarriages, and it’s a difficult feeling to know you’ve done everything right and it still goes wrong. I think that’s part of what Levy means with the rules not applying – you follow all the rules to do what you want, and it still goes wrong. Most rules are just best guesses anyway. I’m reminded of a great quote from Star Trek: The Next Generation from Picard that stuck with me for a long time: “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; that is life.

ENG363/ENG350 – “THINKING ABOUT BLOGGING”

A quote from last week’s email from the professor for this course:

THINKING ABOUT BLOGGING

As we hit the midway point of this course, it may be valuable to you to blog about blogging: what is it like to write online about your writing, in this (somewhat) public way? Have you blogged before this course? Why or why not? How does knowing you are going to blog about these books affect your reading?

 

I said in a separate conversation with the professor that I’ve been blogging since before blog was a word. That may be a slight exaggeration. I have definitely been blogging since before blogging was a profession. The word blog, short for weblog, came around in the days of online diaries. The anonymous over-sharing that came around first on people’s private web pages, then on sites such as livejournal, myspace, friendster, xanga, tumblr, wordpress, facebook, twitter, and whatever else will come in the future. I’ve watched platforms come and go. I’ve watched online friends come and go. I’ve followed the lives of people I’ve never met, and people who have never met me followed my life.

Look at the side-bar. There are posts dating back to 2000. They were backdated on this wordpress (installed 2007) but have been part of my life, my site, since the 90s. I’m ancient on the internet. I’ve been making my views known to whoever will read them for 20 years or so. It was new then. I was a nerd for doing it then. It’s just part of life now. Not just for me, but for society in general.

The only manner that knowing I have to blog for this course (and for other course(s) taught by this same professor) is that how much of non-academic me do I want to let bleed into my writing?

  • I am used to writing academic papers.
  • I am used to writing blogs.
  • I am not used to blogging academically.
  • I am used to writing gigantic blustery papers that take ages to get the point.
  • I am used to writing short, witty responses to media I’ve consumed.
  • I am not used to writing short-form responses to things I have read for an academic audience. 

This has been a fantastic writing experience for me and I absolutely enjoy it. I don’t know how many people, if any, are really reading any of this (my site stats tell me it’s not many at all—my dealings with Valve’s foreign transaction fees continues to be my most read post). I can only hope that those who come here for my writing for classes stay and read my other writing (and try not to judge to harshly what 15-25 year old me wrote).

ENG 350 – “Future Home of the Living God”

In her novel Future Home of the Living God, Louise Erdrich grasps and explains some rather important parts of the apocalypse: Humans known not the scale, and indeed prefer to not know (even with all their clamoring to just know), the scale of the end of life as we know it. The format of the novel as the main character’s journal gives the reader the fog an individual would have—unlike many others that offer flashbacks or other points of view that provide the reader with knowledge that the characters could not possibly know. When a global scale crisis arises, the people immediately become small-minded: looking out for themselves, their families, and little else. Those with power seize control of the military, communication, production, and reproduction. Their agenda is thinly veiled with euphemisms that imply comfort and protection, but masks the abuse of women. The abusers are themselves against what they do but have no choice themselves. No one is winning in this situation, even those that pretend to be in charge. It’s the end of the world, and no one wants to notice.

The focus of the book, however, is an individual’s journey in hiding from those in power, being captured, escaping, being captured again, and ultimately [spoiler alert] not getting away or what she wants. “Finally!” I said to my husband after I finished reading this, “A dystopic novel that doesn’t have a happy ending!” In most stories, there’s some morally gray “happy” ending that gets the main character(s) what they want but with some sort of sacrifice. Here we have a main character that loses everything, and remains that way at the end, with no hope in sight. This is what a reader needs in order to truly understand what the end of the world would be like. No one wins.

Several times within her journal, Cedar (the main character) writes about her future child’s growth, musing over the large numbers and small scale of each bit of growth. She admits that it all seems meaningless, but somehow important at the same time. Just like the end of the world—just like any other hyper-object—it’s too large or to small to comprehend, so she focuses on things that are her size. Her relationships with her moms, her dads, her sister, her grandmother, her “angel”, and the other pregnant women she meets along the way are what drives her. The crisis is endured by all, and so is not a concern that is discussed. It is there, all are aware of it, but every faction moves on their own for their own means. There’s no one group trying to save all of humanity, even those that they they are doing so are trying to create their own world.

ENG 363 – “Dear Ijeawele…”

The premise behind Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is what to do to raise your child a feminist and/or be a feminist while raising a child. Hot on the heels or reading Crispin’s so-called manifesto, I was thrilled to read something that actually added to the conversation of Feminism without just being an angry rant. Angry rants are for blog posts (see my previous ENG 363 for a prime example), not for printed publications. Those poor trees that suffered for Crispin’s independently published diatribe, may their spirits haunt Melville House for eternity.

My goodness does Adichie get it right; and by “get it right” I mainly mean she echoes what I already have decided is the best way to raise my child. She reminds her friend that she is more than just a “mother” and that “mother” does not mean “primary caregiver”. The first line that struck me and made me want to quote it is “The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina” (15). Damn straight it doesn’t! I can’t cook for shit! Even with mail-order recipe and food services I still can’t cook! I do not have the mental energy or attention span to do it at all! My husband does all the cooking and I love him so much for it. We started our life together cooking “equally” but soon realized that doing half of the work drained more out of me than him, so we adjusted.

The suggestion to abolish/ignore marketed gender roles is an absolutely important one, and one I absolutely live by. My son has a dollhouse (which no one in the family would buy him for Christmas, so we bought it for him afterward) in which live action figures, Funko Pops, dolls, and papercraft Minecraft animals. He rarely plays with it now, but it was an interest of his for a while to have Anna and Elsa living in the house, Doc Brown in the garage, and Groot in the yard, and so on. While he may be embarrassed at school to mention these things, we remind him that not everyone realizes that children can be “as much of a boy or girl as they want” without ridicule, and so they likely ridicule their kids or condition them to be ready for ridicule. Like Adichie suggests for her friend’s daughter, we don’t measure our son by how much of a boy he is, we measure him on how much of himself he is.

Adichie’s “Feminism Lite” is given a short section in suggestion four, but it is an important one. The idea that men do, and women are “allowed” to do, is insanity. I do not work because my husband “allows” me, I do not create art or write because my husband “allows” it. I do it because it is who I am, and he is supportive of it (and as Adichie points out, “support” is what women do). I’m reminded of the phrase, “Behind every great man is a great woman,” because it implies that a woman should be grateful that she is supporting a man.

“Feminism Lite” also bleeds into much of the rest of the letter/book, especially in section six in which she says to question language. I’m reminded of an article from 1933 about Freda Kahlo, headlined as “Wife of the Master Mural Painter Gleefully Dabbles in Works of Art“. I can 100% assure you that I have never learned about Kahlo’s spouse in art history, but I have always learned about Kahlo as an accomplished artist (and, to point out, not as a “woman” artist, but an artist outright). I have a mohawk and dye my hair, I get tattoos. I sometimes get asked what my husband thinks of it (he loves it, though he would not do any of this himself) and I reply, “he helps me with the hair.” I do not acknowledge what they’re seeking to find, that he “allows” it or that I am “rebelling” against him, but skip to the implication that he’s fully supportive of me being myself. The most important take-away from this section, though, is “Teach her that if you criticize X in women but do not criticize X in men, then you do not have a problem with X, you have a problem with women” (27). This is something that needs taught not only to children, but to adults, to managers, to people in power, to the media, to everyone, everywhere. It is something that I sometimes have to remind my manager; I am a woman in a male-dominated field (as an aside, I am an artist and writer, but I am employed in an engineering role and do my job quite well). He may be enlightened enough to know that my gender has no bearing on my skills (just as my hair, my tattoos, etc. equally have to effect on my work) needs to listen to criticism from my coworkers about me and take into account that they may not be on the same level. Are they complaining that the behavior is wrong, or are they complaining that a woman has behaved that way?

I am glad that Adichie address the ideas of sexuality and romance as well as the shame and insecurity that come from discussing it. I see too often in feminist literature that these ideas are brought up, but not truly discussed. Relationships between two people, whether the heterosexual norm or not, should be about communication and mutual benefit. Femininity is too often about sacrifice and Feminism is too much about about not-sacrificing. Rarely does Feminism and Relationship discussion come down to actual interpersonal communication, authors opting more often to take an us-vs-them approach that echoes the misogynist viewpoints found in history. Turning a bad thing upside-down doesn’t fix it.

Adichie’s central feminist message for the child and mother is that “Be a person, a whole person, and do not define your self, your worth, or your choices by what society says you, as a woman, should do.” She doesn’t once tell anyone to “Just Stop” being a certain way, but rather accept that everyone come from a different place and has different hurdles to cross, and that their choices are their best choices. You can have opinion about things, but you cannot force your views upon someone – you cannot make them “Just Stop” as Crispin would love to be able to do. Adichie’s manifesto is much more useful for feminism, and for humanity. Though her background is far different from mine, her advise is universal.